“How do you think you will die?”
Unless you make your living as the ever so attractive target in a Las Vegas knife throwing act the answer to that question is strictly speculative.
I don’t know.
There are seven billion people on Earth and there are likely to be seven billion different answers.
WHEN I GET UP EVERY MORNING one of the first things I do is turn on the TV to catch the Weather and local news. The Weather helps me to decide on how to dress and the News either confirms or dispels my decision to get out of bed at all.
One day a week or so ago the lovely Dana Winklepleck (Anchorwoman) ran a story that grabbed my attention like a hungry pit bull on a pork chop.
Dateline: New Albany, Indiana.
New Albany, Indiana is not so close as to be in the “I can see my house from here,” category, but it does qualify as “Local.” The gist of the story is as follows –
A man and his wife woke up from their night’s slumber, much like we all do I suppose. The wife then expressed her yearning for some donuts. Since there were no donuts in the house she sent her loving hubby-bubby out on a mission to get her some donuts and return. She told him exactly what she wanted and sent him on his way.
This is the point where things began to go sour.
The husband went to his wife’s favorite donut shop and placed his order.
“I’m sorry sir, but we’re all out of those donuts until tomorrow.”
With trepidation in his heart, but no donuts in his hand, he returned home. Wifey did not take it well. She launched into a monologue of her opinion of hubby’s abilities as a shopper and potential father. Hubby did not take this well.
Tired of being verbally worked over by his wife, he tried to leave the house (Not a bad idea, if you ask me.). He tried, but she wasn’t finished with him and blocked his way to the door. It was
at this point that the failed Donut Quixote lost his temper and tried to push his angry Aldonza out of the way.
I guess that she had assumed that this physical altercation was going to stay one-sided. When he pushed her, this seriously intense donut fan escalated things and stabbed her husband in the chest with a Grill Fork. I assume that while he was out looking for her donuts she decided to cook up some bacon or, given her temper, the neighbor’s dog.
Not to be intimidated by mere stab wounds, he pulled the fork out of his chest and made his escape from the house. He may have gotten outside, but it seems that she followed him down the street continuing to say nasty things about him.
Someone eventually called the police, who found the husband sitting on the ground holding his chest. They took him to the hospital. They took her to the jail.
Of course, criminal justice being what it is, they are both facing criminal charges – her for that impetuous forking, and him for shoving her in an attempt to escape.
I’m thinking that he has a better chance of being able to go out for donuts sooner than she does. And I hope that he buys what he wants and she can go pound a cruller.
That woman has the worst eating disorder I’ve ever heard of – short of that scene from “The Godfather.”
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”
“This is Detective Martindale. I’m calling in reference to the shooting at the Mall yesterday.”
“I figured as much when you started talking. Look, I’ve already given all of my details when I answered your boy’s questions yesterday so I don’t…”
“I want you to come down here. We have some more things we need to know from you. I understand you were on the job once so you know where to come.”
“I told your boys everything, in detail, about what went down…”
“Ellis, get your ass down here or do I have to stop being polite and have you brought downtown in a black and white? Get sober and put on your pants. Be here in thirty minutes or I send out a car to embarrass you in front of the neighbors.”
I WAS WATCHING TV THE OTHER DAY when I actually saw something new. It was an ad from the Sherwin-Williams Paint Company. They were singing the praises of a brand new product: Anti-Bacterial Paint.
The commercial showed this stereotypical suburban mommy gleefully painting away. She was certainly better dressed for painting than I had ever seen before. There was no drop cloth either, so I must assume that this new paint was also Anti-Gravity and never dripped.
Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters”
Television news is little more than the worst of 19th century “Yellow Journalism” without the ink stains. The Head Honchos of the network News Departments aren’t the slightest bit ashamed to say, “If it bleeds – it leads” when it comes to their merchandising of the News. This day with the three coordinated shootings was Christmas Morning for them.
The local TV stations had cameras and perfectly coiffed “Reporters” dispatched to the three scenes within eight minutes. They were sticking microphones in the faces of the bleeding and traumatized victims, some in their final moments of life.
Why? Was I out partying all night? Have I been on a three-day bender and just woke up slumped over my keyboard? Have I just finished my fourth Iron Man Triathlon this week?
No. No. And No in a million years.
No party. No booze. No, because my idea of a Triathlon is Chips, Salsa, and a Burrito. All of that might make me run a bit, but not 26 miles worth.
No, my friends – my rear end is dragging because I am about to hit my biblically allotted three score and ten years and I find the world getting more and more stupid as I get older.
Half the world wants to kill the other Half because they are the other Half and they want that other Half to be like their Half. They want it both ways. If the other Half won’t be like their Half they figure it is best to kill them so their Half can become the Whole.
Of course, if their Half becomes the Whole it then wouldn’t be long before they would feel it necessary to have another Half to be upset with and they would be off and running again trying to kill “them.’
Got it? Me neither, but it’s a fact – of a sort.
Two Halves. One Half wants the other Half in a Hole so they can be the Whole until they decide which Half of the remaining Whole needs to be in the Hole with the original other Half.
Using that illogical equation – eventually the Whole would end up in the Hole with all of the other Halves and then they would, no doubt, start Halving again – all in a most Unholy way.
As for you, the observers, are concerned, it is your chore to determine which Halves are which and which Halves are most likely to end up in a Hole and which will become the Whole – until the next Halving.
Personally, I don’t think either Half is operating with a Whole deck. Each Half has Quarters within it that are pulling them in many different directions. It seems to me that before the main Halves are able to put any other Half into a Hole they face the possibility of being Halved from within themselves.
I see these internal Quarters rendering the Halves less able to dispatch the other Halves into a Hole. The Quartering of the Halves, and likely Eighths and Sixteenths in time, will lessen the possibilities of any Holing of any Halves. What we will end up with is a collection of highly insane fractions that will have to be content with being nonlethal pains in the butt to everyone in their neighborhood – something similar to living next door to a guy who collects bagpipes.
Getting to this stasis with bagpipes might take a while and things will be very unpleasant until then, but I don’t see any other way of surviving that is Wholly acceptable.
I say, let the Whole thing commence by all of us sitting down to lunch. I’ll have Half a tuna sandwich and a glass of Whole milk. And an Aspirin.
WE HAD COMPANY DROP BY THIS MORNING. They were most welcome because they brought fresh kolaches (look it up). Anyone who brings pastries when they come through the door will be embraced. I think if the Magi had brought kolaches to Bethlehem instead of gold, frankincense, and myrrh they would have been invited to stay for the weekend.
Throwback Thursday from January 2016
The other day, in the illustrious Tribune-Star newspaper, there was a story about a fellow being sentenced to 69 years in the slammer for shooting and killing his “Buddy,” as the story called him.
It was said that both of these lads had been out drinking and were approaching a flammable state when the “Buddy” started feeling blue. He turned to his friend and said, “Just shoot me and put me out of my misery.”
So he did.
There’s not a lot I could add to that, except that it did appear in the Trib-Star, a newspaper not known for the accuracy/spelling/grammar/anything else one would expect. So, I suppose that it is possible that they’ve made a few errors and this story is actually about a meeting of the Garden Club’s Petunia Sub-committee.
In other January news flashes there was a story about my favorite baseball team – The San Francisco Giants – signing up a new outfielder.
Denard Span, aside from having an interesting name, is a good player and should be an asset to the team. The fly in this ointment surfaced during an interview after the contract was signed and Span was paraded before the media. It turns out that the new Giants outfielder has a serious phobia: Birds.
This could be a problem. Having been to many ballgames in San Francisco I can verify that, starting in about the 7th inning, the seagulls arrive at the stadium. They are there looking for a free meal among the dropped hotdogs, peanuts, pizza, and other leftovers. They arrive by the hundreds and take over the bleachers and even land in the outfield. I’m afraid that Mr. Span is going to be increasing his dosage of Anti-Anxiety meds.
These seagulls are big, bold and not afraid of anything. I saw one snatch an ice cream sandwich from the hands of an infant in a stroller. Swoop! Snatch! Gulp!
I wonder if the Giants will pay for his therapist? He’s going to need one or he will turn into Jimmy Piersall right before our eyes. (Look up “Fear Strikes Out”)
Terre Haute (That’s French for, “Biscuits and Gravy – Breakfast of Champions.”) got its first real taste of winter with snow and bitter cold. There’s nothing truly unusual about that, but the NBC affiliate TV station saw things a little differently than the rest of us.
I really hate it when we have to deal with “Blowing Snot” on the roads. I was afraid that my windshield would never be the same – until I replaced the Window Washer Fluid with Mucinex.
I guess that the BIG story of the month has been the Power Ball Lottery jackpot going over a billion dollars. It is a serious amount of money and provides easy stories for the media.
I was watching the Today Show when they did a puff piece about “what if” the prize was paid out in one dollar bills. (Can NBC do hard news, or what?) In singles, the prize would stack up X number of miles. If laid end to end, blah, blah, blah. It was pretty easy to ignore until he said, “It would weigh…” At that point my caffeine dependent mind leapt ahead of him and finished his sentence.
“It would weigh” – “slightly less than Rosie O’Donnell after six months on the Atkins Diet.”
I should talk. I once brought up the idea of having my stomach stapled. My doctor suggested, “That in your case, I would recommend spot welding.”
The odds of winning the billion-plus dollar prize are beyond astronomical, but it will happen (if it hasn’t already by the time this posts.) and someone will gain more previously unknown relatives than anyone in history.
Sudden wealth can present problems, but I’ve dealt with the problems of not so sudden poverty most of my life. I’d like a crack at the other end of that financial Mobius strip.
If you notice that I start writing about the goings-on of Tahiti instead of Terre Haute you’ll know that something big has happened. Tahiti (That’s French for, “Guess what happened to me.”)
LIFE CAN BE NASTY, BRUTISH AND SHORT – depending on your neighborhood and what you eat. Even if you eat right, work and play well with others, and don’t take up burglary for a hobby, you are going to die. There is no escaping that fate – unless you know the same secret that George Hamilton knows. I think that he is about 300 years old and still looks pretty good – better than me that’s for sure. But at some point in the future even George is going to buy the farm.
A few years ago my wife, the lovely and much more photogenic, Dawn, and I toured the National Parks of the Southwest. We took pictures of the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, and the rest. We did not take pictures of ourselves. I saw her there and she saw me – that was proof enough.
Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Conclusion
Pushing his aching body as fast as he could Luco arrived at the Arboretum Gardener’s Shed in fifteen minutes. He called out.
“I’m here, Thayer. Marlee, are you in there? Are you OK?”
Dennis was waiting.
“I’m sorry, Reyes. I’m afraid she’s a bit tied up right now.”
“Dennis, let her go. She’s not invol –“
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Dennis screamed. This is my turf and I make the rules here.”
Luco paced back and forth knowing that every second that Dennis still held Marlee anything could happen.
“Dennis, let’s talk. Come on out here, face to face.”
Dennis looked at Luco through the window shutter, standing there. “Did you come alone, Coffee Boy?”
“Yes, Dennis, I’m alone.”
Inside the shed Dennis, grinning, turned to Marlee. “He came alone. He really is such a Boy Scout.
“Reyes, you come in here if you want to see your little ‘Nursey-Wursey.’ Now!
Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” – Part Thirty-One
The Game isn’t over until one side wins. The final score has to show the world who the winner is – and more importantly – who is the loser.
The Game is almost over.
1298 Haight Street had turned into something no one wanted and no one could do anything about: a crime scene.
The Hit and Run of Luco Reyes was tied to the smashed window at the café, the constant break-ins at Apartment 6, and the brutal killing of the cat. They were all connected to Apartment 8 and Dennis Thayer, but he was nowhere to be found.
The DMV showed that Thayer owned a van, or had. He had failed to keep it registered for the last two years. There was no record of it being sold or scrapped, so it had to be somewhere – just like Dennis Thayer. He had to be somewhere.
Shopkeepers on Haight Street kept reporting that they had seen him lurking about, standing in the shadows watching something or someone. One minute he was there – the next minute he was gone. At night he was heard but not seen.
The people at 1298 Haight Street swore that they heard him in the building. He was going from floor to floor meowing like a cat, but by the time anyone would open their door he’d be gone – into a vacant apartment, into the Park, into the darkness. He was seen sitting on the Buena Vista Park steps across the street. Sometimes he would shout something that someone said sounded like, “I don’t share.” Another time he yelled out a slurred, “Marlee, you’re mine. I own you.”
Marlee had all but quit living in her apartment and moved in with Luco Reyes’ flat on Stanyan Street. Little by little she was transferring her sparse possessions from where she had hoped that she would find the start of a new life, but what had turned into a twisted continuation of the old.
Stanyan Street was a refuge. Every day Luco was getting stronger and she felt safe being with and near him.
The savagery of the killings in the neighborhood had escalated. While there was no proof – no hard evidence, no pictures to make it real, the people on the street knew in their gut that it was Dennis Thayer who had been butchering the Street Kids. The Kids warned each other, but had no place to go, to hide from him. They knew the killer was a man who offered them drugs, shelter from the cold and food. He also led them away to a van, they said, and then to their graves. They were leery of the Police and of any authority that might try to send them back home. They feared that more than they feared “The Man in the Night.”
“Meow, Meow. Here. Kitty, Kitty. Are you in there, Marlee? Can I come in? You know I can – anytime I want.”
Had she heard something or was it just her imagination. Anytime she was in her apartment, even for a few minutes, she felt like she was being watched. She opened her door, a butcher knife in her hand, but he wasn’t there. Was he ever there or had her fear put him inside her head? Did it matter?
She had gone back to 1298 Haight to get her cello, the last important thing not yet moved up the street to the flat above the bicycle shop.
Not wanting to spend any more time in Apartment 6 than needed Marlee picked up the case holding her cello and left the building behind. She’d slipped a small knife into the belt under her jacket. The fog was coming in as the sun was dropping toward the Pacific horizon.
The crowd on Haight Street was beginning to build. Walking all the way to Stanyan Street would be awkward carrying her case. A quick cut down one short block to her usual route, Page Street – a quiet residential street with leafy trees and flowers running parallel to Haight Street.
As she crossed Masonic Street she had to jump out of the way as a gray van ignored the stop sign. It missed her by inches. The van had a bright red circus tent painted on the side and the name, “Big Top Day Care.” The driver was in a hurry to drop off the last of the kids to their parents already home from their jobs downtown.
“Oh, that was close, Missy Marlee. I would have been so disappointed. You know by now that I won’t share you with anyone. I want you all to myself. Don’t be in such a rush to get to your Coffee Boy. No need. I can wait. Just a minute or two more, that’s all.”
Marlee crossed Ashbury Street and passed by an old Victorian style home that was vacant and up for sale. The streetlight above the sidewalk was out casting a shadow over the house. She was struggling with the bulky cello case. It was beginning to feel heavy. She wasn’t used to carrying it this far. She passed the short driveway, not seeing the gray, freshly painted, van sitting inside the open garage.
Marlee paused to catch her breath and get a better grip on the case. She heard a sound behind her.
She started to turn around, but she stopped when she saw a grinning familiar face. An arm reached around and held her tight against his body.
She struggled to free herself, but he had her firmly immobilized.
“Now, now, don’t fight me, Missy. Relax. You’re going to feel something in your neck now, it’s a needle, and in about fifteen seconds your legs will go to sleep.” Marlee sensed what felt like an icicle pricking her neck. “So, let’s stroll over to my van while you still can. In thirty seconds you will start a nice long nap.”
Dennis Thayer half dragged Marlee Owen from the sidewalk and, as she collapsed, lifted her limp body into the back of the van.
As he drove away the van scuffed the cello and case into the street.
When Marlee opened her eyes and tried to move she discovered that she was tied – her hands in her lap with silver duct tape around her wrists. Her ankles were bound with the same tape. There was one more swath of tape across her mouth. She was sitting on a dirty wooden floor with her back up against a pile of sacks filled with mulch.
“Well, hello there, Princess. Good morning. I hope you slept well. I’m sorry I had to knock you out like that. I was a little pressed for time there on the street. In case you’re wondering, it is about 7:30 AM. I gave you a nice…let’s call it a mild sedative of my own design. I wanted you quiet until we got here. You’ll be a bit groggy for a while, but you’re not going anywhere, are you? And we are expecting company.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Dennis said with a smile, “I’ve got to go get ready for our guest.” He pulled two knives from sheaths on his belt. He took out the small knife that Marlee had carried when she left her apartment. He shook his head as he spoke.
“Didn’t your Momma ever tell you to not play with knives? Tsk, Tsk. Such an upbringing.” He laughed as he walked away leaving Marlee bound, gagged, and trying to sort out what was happening through a drug induced veil.
The light was dim coming through the hard plastic sheets that made up the ceiling of what appeared to her to be a gardener’s shed. She was surrounded by plants and tools. There were mowers and rakes, clippers of varying sizes, a number of ladders and a pair of chainsaws. On a long table were potted plants, orchids, day lilies, and cacti. She was no more mobile than any of the plants.
Dennis moved about the shed placing items in positions that seemed to have meaning to him; boxes, tool racks rolls of plastic. He noticed Marlee checking out her surroundings.
“Wondering where you are and what’s going to happen? I can’t blame you. No, that’s not true. I do blame you, Missy.” Holding his butterfly knife he loomed over her sitting on the floor. He could see the fear in her eyes. He smiled and lowered himself to the floor and sat next to her. Shoulder to shoulder.
“Let me answer your questions. Where are we? We are in the Arboretum in the Head Gardener’s Workshed. No one but the Gardener and his crew come in here and this is a weekend so we have it all to ourselves. The Gardener did come in earlier while you were sleeping. Why he did that I’ll never know. Oh, well, that’s him in the big bag over there.”
Marlee’s eyes widened in terror.
“Oh, Miss Marlee, save the mock horror. You’ve seen cut up men before and you will again. I guess you’re just bad luck. Men come around you and they end up dead. And guess what? It’s going to happen again. Oh, yes. Your precious barista is going to be your next victim. Marlee’s third dead man.
“I dropped a note to him on our way here telling him where he could find us. I told him to come alone or I’d do to you what I did to your smelly little kitten.
“Just listen to me, will you?” He struggled to his feet “Sometimes I just monopolize the conversation. Here, let me get this tape off of you.” He gently peeled the duct tape from Marlee’s face. She screamed.
“Oh, go ahead and scream, you little two-timer. There’s no one within a quarter mile from here.” She spat in his face.
“You animal,” she said through clenched teeth.
“Yeah, right. Would you like some tea? I have a pot steeping.”
“Let me go, Dennis. You can’t get away with this. There will be every police officer in San Francisco coming in here after you and they’ll –“
“No, they won’t. Your little Boy Toy will come here alone. I know his type. He wants to be the hero to rescue his Fair Maiden. So save your breath. And how did you phrase it, ‘You can’t get away with this’? But I already have. I have you here, Coffee Boy will come as ordered, and then I will show you what I can do with all of these delicious tools here in the shed. Get away with it? When I’m done I’ll just walk out of here and disappear into the fog. How ‘Movie of the Week’ is that, Girl? Let me get your tea.”
“I’m sorry, Luco, I haven’t seen her. Hold on, let me ask.” With her hand over the mouthpiece, Scar called out, “Has anybody seen Marlee this morning?” Luco could hear the buzz as everyone answered her.
“Sorry, Luco. No such luck. She’s not been in. Have you called her at her place? Oh, OK. Well, I’m sure she’s out and about. Later, Honeybuns.”
This was not like Marlee. In fact it was the opposite of her normal behavior. Every day when she left Stanyan Street to walk back to Haight Street she would call him when she arrived. She called last night, but nothing since then.
Luco began to pace, still painfully, feeling sure that something was wrong. Ever since she found the cat he had been urging her to not go back there at all. When she left him to go to 1298 she said that was going to get her cello and head back to Stanyan Street. That was 14 hours ago.
“Something is wrong.”
Luco’s body was considerably better than a week ago, but he was far from feeling strong and healthy. That would take months, but he could not sit at home alone and wait to hear from Marlee.
Slowly he struggled into his boots, not allowing himself to grunt in pain as he bent to tie the laces. His fear was turning into dread.
At the bottom of the stairs he saw that his mailbox was full. There was also one sheet of paper without an envelope sticking out of the box. His name was scrawled on it in a mixture of large cursive lettering and block printing..
At the top of the handwritten page he read, “Hey, Reyes – Guess who?
“If you’re looking for your skinny bitch, save your time. I’ve got her.”
Every sore and wounded muscle in Luco’s body tightened.
“I’ve got her and I’m going to keep her. I saw her first, and remember – I don’t share.
“Now that I have your attention, you undereducated, minimum wage, pretty boy waiter, I want you to read this slowly.
“I’m a nice guy, really I am, but I can play rough. I imagine you’re missing your blonde widow. Would you like to see her? Talk with her – before I cut her to pieces and feed her to the sea lions at Pier 39? Better hurry then, you gimpy fool. I’ll let you come to see her – us, but if you don’t come alone or try to tip off the stupid SFPD I will make her suffer beyond belief. And then I will disappear forever. Get it, Coffee Boy?
“We are enjoying a cup of tea at the Arboretum. Come to the far western end, to the Gardener’s Shed. We’ll be waiting.
A combination of rage and painful memories washed over Luco. He had finally met someone who could fill the hollow space in his heart, but again, some sick and insane man was trying to take her away from him.
Next Week – THE CONCLUSION
Throwback Thursday from August 2015
I got up at my usual time – 7 AM-ish and got my act together so I could leave the house without either scaring the neighbors or getting my butt arrested. Up to that point the morning was going along uneventfully.
My wife, the lovely and early rising today, Dawn, was already up and more or less “at ‘em.” She had an 8:30 appointment and set the alarm for some ungodly hour to ensure that she would not be late. I applaud her for that.
It was at this point that things began to go downhill like a Chevy with a faulty parking brake in San Francisco. I had my own appointment to see my Doctor at 11:20 AM.
11:20? 11:bleeping 20? What moron scheduled an appointment for that late in the day? Oh. Never mind. My bad.
The main reason I see this Doctor at all is because I have “Blood Pressure Issues.” That means that, untreated, my blood pressure tends to creep up to rival that of a charging Cape Buffalo. After that my head would explode, I would spontaneously combust and I would hit the ground like an overcooked baked potato.
By scheduling an appointment for that late in the morning it meant one very significant and overriding thing: I wouldn’t be able to have my morning coffee until after the appointment.
Dear God! Whatever will I do? Wherever will I go?
If I go ahead and drop by St. Arbucks for my morning coffee my blood pressure will spike like Vlad The Impaler on a bad day. I had doomed myself to a morning without my coffee. Sheesh!
My solution to this self-inflicted wound was to nurse along a cup of Decaf and hope that it wouldn’t rat on me when they wrapped that cuff on my arm.
I know what you are thinking –“Decaf?” That is just like kissing your sister. It is technically a kiss, but it’s not the same. It’s not like the Real Thing.
So, bowing my head in shame, I ordered the coffee that isn’t coffee and I skulked to my chair in the corner. The barista got a bit teary, The Usual Suspects – The Brotherhood of the Cup, stared and whispered to each other. Even the flies moved to the far side of the store, ashamed to be seen near me.
I sat there waiting for it to be time to leave. I sipped at the dark liquid, wondering what do they do to make it taste like that – and why, for Heaven’s sake. Why?
Deep in my heart I knew that I had a good reason for doing what I was doing. It was my health, my very life, which was in the balance. With my meds I had the blood pressure of an adult human male of my age. Without my meds no one within splatter range was safe. I was like a human paint ball. I didn’t want to mislead the Doctor with a BP reading that would be artificially goosed up by my cup of real coffee.
Some days you just have to take one for the team. Some days you have to lean in to the fastball. If I had to pretend that the stuff in my cup was really coffee I would do it. I would hope that the stress of making this sacrifice would not, in itself, raise my blood pressure, but I would do it.
I had to think of my family, man!
I want them to be proud of me. I want them to see me happy. I want them to see me above ground.
His name was “Chopper.”
“Chopper” wasn’t his real name of course. It was a name that he earned in the Military. I knew him after his Army days, but I heard the stories – a few from him directly, but most from his brother. “Chopper” himself was somewhat reticent to talk about his time in Southeast Asia.
“Chopper” was a young Irish boy from Cleveland. He came from a family of Firefighters who lived life like it was a nonstop wedding reception. If something was worth doing – it was worth doing at full speed.
At least the sun was shining and the winds were warm, out of the East, down from the Sierras. The fog was pushed out to sea hiding the offshore Farralon Islands from view. It made San Francisco seem like it was a part of the popular image of a Sunny California.
Luco wasn’t scheduled for release from the hospital for another three days, but he was raising such Holy Hell and threatening to crawl out of the place on his hands and knees that the medical staff voted to give him an early trip home.
“Mr. Reyes, as your doctor I must advise you to give us a couple more days to make sure that your internal injuries are on a healing track. But… as a member of the human race and someone who has to be around you all day I’d just as soon kick you down the stairs. Of course, I’d have to take a number and wait in line for the privilege.”
“Doc, I don’t mean to be trouble, but I hate it here. I’m feeling OK and I want to go home.”
The young doctor, who looked like he was there earning a merit badge, drummed his fingers on the side rail of Luco’s bed.
“Mr. Reyes, you may feel alright, but you’re not. Frankly, you’re lucky to be alive. If I sent you home alone you might end up dead on your bathroom floor before sundown. Of course, if I don’t let you leave, you might succumb to the night nursing staff.”
“I’ve been that much of a pain?” said Luco. He winced as he shifted his weight trying to get comfortable. Looking in the doctor’s eyes, Luco saw a mixture of professional concern and a weighing of the odds with a jury of his peers.
“Pain?”said the young man in the white lab coat. “Mr. Reyes, there was talk of starting a pool to predict which shift would report your sudden and unfortunate death. I’ve been here six years and I’ve never seen a grown man behave in such an immature and irritating manner.”
Luco blushed. He had never been a “good patient.” Even as a child being home sick from school could drive his mother to tears.
“Doc, I’m really sorry if I’ve been difficult. Do you think I should go and apologize to everyone?”
“No, Mr. Reyes, I couldn’t guarantee your safety. I think it best if I just sign your release and get you out of here. Who can tend to you when you get home?”
“I’ll take care of him, Doctor.”
Both men turned their gaze toward the doorway. There stood Marlee, dressed in tan shorts and a striped tank top. A large straw hat and matching bag completed the look.
“Oh, Jesus God, why didn’t you just leave me there to die?”
“I told you those steps would be rough, Luco.”
Marlee helped Luco ease himself down onto the sofa.
“Rough I could handle, but those last few steps…. I thought I was going to split open like a ripe watermelon.”
That’s why the doctors wanted to keep you a few more days.” Marlee spread a light throw over his legs. He had his head back, with his arm crossed over his eyes. “Inside, you’re still hamburger according to one of the Interns.”
“I feel like hamburger.” His eyes were closed.
The short ride home and the climb up the 18 steps from Stanyan Street had exhausted Luco’s body and drained his reserve of mental toughness. He fell asleep within seconds.
Luco had maintained that the vehicle that cracked and crushed his body had been steered with malicious intent. There had been no eyewitnesses. The people in the coffeehouse had nothing helpful to add.
The official police report concluded that it could come to no conclusion. There were no unusual skidmarks on the pavement. The intersection of Cole and Waller was busy during the day with diesel buses and tourist’s rental cars. Collisions and skidmarks were not uncommon. When the investigators looked at the scene they just shook their heads. The intersection looked like every other intersection in the city, except for the broken glass and the blood.
Marlee sat down at Luco’s desk and stared out the window. The grassy slopes of Golden Gate Park were still damp from the morning fog as it retreated offshore. The sunlight sparkled off the grass and made the world look clean and inviting.
She turned away from the window and looked at Luco’s sleeping form on the old hotel sofa. With his short hair and relaxed features he looked like a small boy napping. One part of her wanted to take him in her arms and rock him, nurturing, caring, protecting. Another part was coming to accept that she wanted to be held in his arms.
Marlee walked down Haight Street after getting Luco settled in and safe. The bright morning sun was shadowed by conflicting emotions. She and Pete from the cafe had arranged for a home healthcare staff to tend to Luco until he was farther along in his recovery.
She was comforted just knowing that he was alive and going to survive his injuries, but she was still scared for him. Luco was so sure that the driver of the van had hit him intentionally. The blend of relief and fear was exhausting. She hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. It was catching up with her now. A good solid week’s worth of deep, comforting, sleep would be good, but she needed to be back at Luco’s apartment. Five hours would have to do.
She made a short detour into the Haight-Central Market to get a couple of onions, some canned tomatoes and a green pepper. Tonight Luco was going to eat her Swiss Steak, whether he was hungry or not. He needed some red meat.
Standing at the counter, Mike, the young Lebanese owner rang up her purchases. He liked Marlee. She never gave him any grief and she never asked for credit.
“Hi, Marlee. How you doing? Don’t take this wrong, but you look terrible. Can’t sleep? Haight Street can get noisy at night.”
“It’s not the noise, Mike. I just haven’t had the chance to get any rest. Hopefully I can grab some this morning.”
As he listened, Mike let his eyes dart up to the large parabolic mirror in the corner. Shoplifting was an ongoing problem on the street and the mirror let him see clearly down both aisles of his small market.
Anyone who tried shoplifting from Mike had to be incredibly stupid. There was only one way out of the store and that was right past Mike and the 9mm pistol he kept tucked in his waistband. It was usually covered by his shirt, but not always. His eyes quickly scanned the store.
“I heard about Luco. Too bad.”
“It was horrible, Mike. He is a very lucky man, just to be alive.”
“A real shame. My brother got killed crossing Stanyan Street a few years ago. They never caught the guy who hit him. My Mother still cries about that.”
“My sympathies, Mike. At least Luco will survive.” She saw Mike’s eyes move up to the mirror. “He was released from the hospital yesterday afternoon. He’s not getting around too well yet. He needs time to recuperate.”
“Good thing he has a friend like you to help him out.” His gaze was fixed on the mirror. “Son of a bitch.”
“What?” Marlee turned and looked up at the mirror.
Crouched down in front of the beer cooler was Dennis Thayer. Marlee and Mike watched him slipping cans of beer into the pockets of his coat.
“Look at that. I finally let him back in here and the first thing he does is try to rip me off again. Marlee, here, take your groceries and get home. Me and this clown are going to have a talk and I don’t want you to be in the middle.”
“Oh, good Lord, Mike, be careful. Do you want me to call the police?”
“No. You go home and get some rest.” He smiled at Marlee, but his eyes stayed glued on the image of Dennis in the mirror. “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”
He unfastened the bottom two buttons of his shirt. Marlee could see the textured black grip on the pistol and the polished chrome of the barrel as Mike shifted it and flipped the safety to “off.”
“Marlee, please leave. Now.”
She picked up her plastic carrier bag and, taking one last peek at the mirror, left the store.
“Please be careful, Mike.”
Mike could see that Dennis was heading toward the front of the store.
Marlee hurried across the intersection, her keys out. Opening the front gate to the building, she glanced back and saw the front door at the market swinging shut.
There was little doubt that Mike could take care of himself, but it still made her uneasy. She knew, all too well, how quickly things could go sour and become deadly. Heartbeats are fragile.
“Sleep, girl. Get some rest,” she said out loud as she opened her front door.
Within three minutes the groceries were on the kitchen counter, the blinds were closed, alarm set and Marlee was underneath the soft blankets. Her breathing was slowing and sleep was only seconds in coming. Fives hours would come soon.
“Just a loaf of bread today, Mike.”
“Sure, Dennis. That’ll be $8.87.”
“$8.87? For a loaf of bread?”
“For the bread and for the three beers you have in your pockets.”
Dennis smiled. He knew that Mike had seen him hide the cans. This was the fun part, the sport of it all. He saw that the front door was closed. It was just the two of them, alone in the store.
“Mike, I’m not trying to rip you off.”
“Thayer, I’ve had it with you. I take pity on you and let you back in my store and you thank me by trying to steal from me again.” He let his hand rest on the butt of the pistol so Dennis would get the message. “Either put the beers on the counter or pay for them. Either way, I don’t want you in here anymore.”
Dennis grinned and fondled the butterfly knife in his left pants pocket. He was enjoying this. The sight of Mike’s 9mm was an added treat.
“Are you threatening me, Mike?”
“Yes, I am you stupid junkie. You think this is a game show we’re playing here?”
Dennis’ smile vanished. Name-calling was out of line. This was just a game. There was no need to get personally nasty.
He pulled the cans of beer from his pockets and, one by one, slammed them down on the counter. They would be undrinkable for hours.
“Don’t call me names, Mike…ever. I don’t like being insulted. You understand me, you stinking camel jockey? There’s your beer. Why don’t you pop one open, Osama?”
“Get out of my store. Don’t come back. No more games with you. Go!”
Dennis pushed open the door. A bright orange Municipal Railway bus was stopped at the corner. He looked back at Mike.
“You’re right about one thing, Mike. No more games.”
Dennis quickly crossed Haight Street and headed down Central toward the Panhandle. He looked up at the 1298 Haight building. He saw the blinds snap shut in the windows of apartment number six.
“So, Miss Marlee, your macho stud is still alive. Don’t get too into playing nursemaid for him. It’s going to be a temporary job.”
It was a dry cleaner, working off $750 in traffic fines by picking up trash in the Park, who found the body of the sixteen-year-old runaway, stuffed into the trash bin behind the playground in the Panhandle.
The fifth floor of St. Mary’s hospital was indistinguishable from the fourth or the sixth. All of them had the same aqua and “seafoam green” colored walls, recessed lighting and the smell of disinfectant.
Using the hint offered by the helpful nurse in the Emergency Room, Marlee learned that Luco had been moved from “post-op” to room 534. With her heart in her throat Marlee took the large and spotless elevator up to the fifth floor.
Forcing herself not to run madly down the corridor Marlee walked along the painted line on the floor, gazing into each room as she passed the open doors. It was a slide show of semi-private tragedy. She was ashamed of herself for peeking into other people’s lives. Looking ahead she saw several empty gurneys parked along the walls and a large laundry cart filling up half of the hallway.
A man came out of the room just beyond the cart, and as he walked past her, Marlee could see that he was a priest. Doing some quick counting, she guessed that he had come from room 534. She picked up her pace. To Hell with decorum.
“Oh, dear God. Oh, dear God. Please, not Luco, not Luco.”
Another flicker of shame burned her cheeks as she realized that she was wishing the Last Rites onto someone else.
The door to 534 was partially closed. From inside Marlee could hear the sound of someone crying. Slowly, she opened the door, fighting back tears, and entered into the room. All of the lights were off, putting the room into shadowy darkness. The curtain was drawn around bed. Behind the thin green fabric there was sobbing and praying in Spanish. Marlee felt her knees buckle and she had to grab the back of a chair to keep from falling to the floor. A nurse, wearing a stethoscope, pushed the curtain back and saw the reeling Marlee. Over the nurse’s shoulder Marlee saw a gray-haired man on the bed, his eyes and mouth open in death. Gently stroking his papery cheek was the sobbing woman, a look of despair and unbelieving sorrow on her face.
The nurse pulled the curtain closed behind her and looked at Marlee.
“Can I help you? Are you all right?”
“Luco Reyes? I was told he was in this room. I’m his wife.” Marlee moved her left hand behind her back.
“Let’s go out in the hall for a moment,” she said and, taking Marlee by the elbow, led her into the corridor. Once there, she told Marlee the details of what had happened and about the treatment he had received so far. Marlee blanched, hearing how they had cut Luco open to repair his torn lung. His condition was still listed as “Serious”, but barring unforeseen complications, he would survive. Marlee shed tears of joy at this news and asked if she could see him.
“Of course, Mrs. Reyes.”
Silently the nurse took Marlee by the arm again and led her to a second bed sitting by the far window.
There was Luco. Marlee stood and looked at him. He was unconscious with a sheet pulled up high on his chest. He had an intravenous drip line going into his right arm. “He looks so small,” was her first thought.
Marlee took a side chair and sat down next to the bed. The rails were up and he looked like he was sleeping in an aluminum crib.
For the next ten minutes she just sat and looked at Luco. His face was scraped and there were small bandages on his chin and forehead. He was still under the lingering effects of the anesthesia. Lowering the rail, Marlee reached out and smoothed his hair.
“Oh, Luco. My poor, sweet Luco.”
Thoughts of their talk at Martin Macks the previous evening went through her head. “Was that only last night?” She remembered how they had both cried as they told each other the stories of their lives. She recalled the feel of his hand in hers as they walked down Haight Street and how very much she wanted to hold him, but didn’t.
Marlee looked at him and wondered about “unforeseen complications.” Was she going to lose this man from her life? Unconsciously she took his hand. His skin was warm and soft, just like last night.
She looked at his battered face. His eyes were slits. “Luco.” Her voice leapt from her throat. She lifted his hand and kissed it.
“Where am I? What happened?” His voice was hoarse. He struggled to focus his eyes, with only marginal success.
Even though his vision was blurred, he could feel her hand on his and turned his palm up, closing his fingers around hers. “Where am I?” She squeezed his hand gently and he squeezed back with a strength that surprised her.
“You’re in the hospital, Luco. You were hit by a car.”
“It must have been a tank.”
“You had surgery last night to fix some damage to your lungs, but you’re going to be fine.” Luco just nodded as he began to lose consciousness again. As the anesthesia wore off the pain medication mixed into his glucose drip would smooth the rough edges, but he would sleep for most of the day.
Marlee got up to lower the blind to keep the glare off of Luco’s serene and regal face. He looked like a king in Marlee’s eyes. Somewhere lost in his lineage, generations ago, there must have been royalty in his family. Even now the bearing and grace shone through.
It wasn’t long before hospital protocol geared up and a tall man in a crisp white linen coat escorted the new widow from her station at her husband’s bedside. As soon as she left the room two muscular men tenderly, respectfully, moved the lifeless body onto a gurney. They covered him with a fresh white sheet and took him away. Marlee could hear the squeaking wheels on the gurney as it rolled slowly down the hallway.
While Luco slept Marlee stayed by his side, watching him, willing him protection from “unseen complications.” Occasionally Luco would stir or moan softly and she would sit up straight and take his hand until he quieted again.
Seeing Luco so helpless and seemingly small in that large metal bed, with tubes running into and out of his limp and injured body, sent her back in time. Back to the night when she cradled the body of her husband in her arms, feeling his life escape, a modern Pieta.
Marlee wanted to crawl into the hospital bed next to Luco and hold him, to come between him and any harm. In her heart she had failed to save Phillip, but she would not fail again. Not this time, not today. Not with this beautiful, scarred soul.
The night before they had laid bare their deepest wounds to each other. It was then that she learned about the real Luco Reyes. It didn’t matter if no one else ever saw past the facade of the flirting, glib barista who traded unanswered invitations with the women who drank in his special brews. Marlee Owens would know the real Luco.
She saw that that cavalier behavior was Luco’s way of staying alive. Get close enough to smell the perfume, but not so close as to inhale the explosive aroma of the woman herself. That he would not, could not, allow himself to do.
Luco was stopped by the idea that to caress too gently, to hold too closely, to care too deeply, would be a betrayal to a Love who was gone and beyond return. All that he had left was the memory and if he let that go he would be lost. That memory was his anchor and he was afraid to search for another.
Marlee knew that she was battling a similar enemy. Despite her dreams of Phillip releasing her, she still held a tangible guilt about her feelings for Luco. In the years since Phillip there had been no one else in her mind or her heart. Now, however, this frail looking man the hospital bed had gently invaded both.
Luco moved his head and Marlee leaned forward. “Luco?” His eyes fluttered and opened. He looked into Marlee’s eyes.
“Te amo,” he whispered. Marlee understood the phrase and searched for the right words with which to answer. She found them deep in her heart. “I love you too, Luco.” She laid her cheek on his hand. He reached over and stroked her hair.
“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”
Marlee couldn’t move. Luco continued to run his fingers across her pale blond hair as he spoke in slurred Spanish to his deceased wife. Marlee’s knowledge of Spanish did not allow her to follow all of his words, but he said Alicia’s name several times. As he spoke silent tears spilled from her eyes. Each touch of his hand tore at her heart. How could she ever hope to find love with a man so married to a memory?
When Luco fell silent, Marlee moved his hand and sat back in the chair, looking at him as he slept once again.
Marlee wondered about what was going to happen now. In her mind it was clear that Luco was not ready to love her, or anyone. But she had spoken out loud the words “I love you” to him, even though he had not heard them, she had.
Deep within the hemispheres and ridges of his brain, Luco Reyes was moving from dreamless unconsciousness into a dream-hungry sleep. A mad projector in his brain was flashing images, sounds and people before his mind’s eye. Events raced by at an incoherent rate. Nothing made sense, but he understood that he was subconsciously reviewing and evaluating his life, judging himself in preparation for…for what he did not know.
He was seeing every moment of his marriage and as, in his haunting memory, he sat again at the horrible funerals in the chapel at Mission Dolores. He heard someone call his name.
He knew the voice.
“I love you too, Luco.”
“Te amo, Alicia. Te amo.”
Not knowing how long he would have, he poured out his thoughts to his wife.
“Alicia, I need to tell you that I realize you told me the truth. I have been wrong to cling to you the way I have. It’s been unhealthy and unfair to your memory.
“Alicia, I have met a woman, a beautiful and good woman. She makes me feel like I did when I first saw you. We have talked and she has suffered a great loss in her life too. She understands even though I can’t explain it all to her.
“Alicia, I love this woman. I need this woman. I hunger for this woman.
“Know that I will always love you and Regalito, but this woman makes me want to live again.”
An unheard voice spoke to Luco from the depths of his life.
“Go to her, Luco. Love her.”
In the silence and dim light of the hospital room Marlee sat with her head in her hands, feeling lost in her California exile and thinking that she had lost again to Death. First it was Phillip’s life and now it was her own, to the memory of a dead woman.
She had come almost 3000 miles to get away from a lost love only to have it happen again, but this time it was far more cruel. The man with whom she loved and could not have, was in love with a ghost.
Her thoughts drifted to her cello and she wondered if it was to be her only source of loving sounds in her ear, responsive and giving in her arms and solid and sinuous against her skin.
Dennis heard Marlee close her front door and a quick peek out of his window confirmed it. He pushed aside the stalks of his large red and white hibiscus to follow her with his eyes as she crossed the street and headed up Haight Street. He needed a few minutes. As he watched her pass the corner market he idly plucked a leaf from the hibiscus and stuffed it into his pants pocket.
Grabbing his keys, Dennis went down the steps two at a time. He stopped outside of number six. Using the key that he had stolen from the previous tenant he silently let himself into Marlee’s apartment.
J.P. Cat was sound asleep inside his cardboard box bed. He never stirred when Dennis walked past him and into the bedroom.
Knowing that he was wasting time and risking discovery, Dennis opted to push his luck. “This is what makes it fun,” he said out loud.
He opened the closet and looked at the clothes. He took the sleeve of a white cotton blouse and put it next to his face, inhaling deeply. He closed his eyes, imagining Marlee in the blouse and then bit off the button from the cuff, swallowing it.
Dennis took a step back from the closet and appraised what he saw. “Cheap, frumpy, knockoff, knockoff, Gap, for God’s sake. My mother had one of these. Oh, Miss Marlee, you need a fashion consultant.”
He took a quick trip through her dresser drawers, running his fingers across the fabric and noting her preference for red.
A glance at her clock radio warned him to curtail his pleasure trip and get down to business.
Dennis walked into the kitchen and pulled a four-inch butterfly knife from his back pocket and the hibiscus leaf from the front. He grabbed Marlee’s cutting board from the shelf over the sink as he flipped open the scalpel sharp knife.
He worked rapidly, cutting the leaf into pieces, chopping and dicing the bits smaller and smaller. Using the flat blade he scraped the wooden board clean of every atom of green. He dropped the green slivers on top of the mound of cat food in the blue plastic bowl. He mixed them into the chicken and tuna until they disappeared.
“Let’s see whose door she knocks on when little ‘Just Plain Cat’ starts to vomit his cute yellow head off tonight. ‘Help me, Dennis. Oh, help me’.”
While Marlee was hearing about Luco being hit by a mysterious “hit and run” driver, Dennis was cleaning up after himself. He replaced the cutting board, walked past the still sleeping cat and plucked a CD of Yo Yo Ma playing the cello from the top of the stack. “Now, where did I set that CD?”
Still laughing, he quickly relocked Marlee’s front door and walked slowly back up the steps to the third floor. The morning sun was streaming through the large window on the landing. Dennis could see the Buena Vista Park steps. There was a drug deal going down. He turned around and ran down the stairs and out of the front door.
Dodging a bus and a motor scooter, Dennis ran across Haight Street.
“Hey, you two animals! What do you think you’re doing?”
“Get out of here mister, unless you want hurt. Do you?” The dealer lifted his shirttail to show Dennis the hilt of a large knife.
“Is that supposed to scare me, you subhuman filth?” The teenaged buyer started to back away, wanting no part of what looked about to erupt. Dennis glared at the boy. “Get out of my neighborhood and don’t come back or your ass is mine.” The kid took off running up the hill, scared and anxious to get back to his suburban home.
Just the two angry men were left, facing each other. The dealer pushed his floppy hat back on his head. He stroked his straggly beard as he took the measure of the blonde haired do-gooder.
“You just cost me a hundred bucks, partner. I think you should reimburse me.” He smiled a gap toothed smile at Dennis and casually reached for his knife.
Dennis whipped his butterfly knife from his pocket and had the blade pointed at the dealer before the buck knife had cleared its leather sheath. Dennis stepped closer, backing the longhaired drug pusher up the steps.
“You know what, you damned piece of garbage?”
“What’s that, Batman?”
“I could kill you right here and probably get a medal from the Mayor.”
“Yeah? If you think you’re such a John Wayne, try me. Right here, right now.” He lifted the silvery knife and waved it at Dennis. Before the street dealer could react, Dennis’ hand flew out and sliced his left nostril.
The dealer let out a soft scream and lashed out with his own knife. Dennis sidestepped it and punched the dealer on the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. A small audience of pedestrians, other would-be drug customers and the passengers on a bus parked in the stop zone twenty-five feet away, watched the lopsided fight. The bus driver picked up his radio and summoned the police.
Dennis stood over the prone, bleeding and frightened dealer. The butterfly knife was digging into the eyelid of the man on the ground. Dennis tossed the buck knife into the bank of zinnias and pansies that lined the sidewalk.
“Pay attention to me. I’m only going to say this once. I could kill you right now, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be any fun and if it’s not fun, why do it. Right? Right, Idiot?”
“So…I’m letting you go…for now.”
He lifted the bloody faced criminal to his feet and, careful to not get any blood on himself, ran the razor sharp edge of his knife in a swift race down the bridge of the dealer’s nose, peeling the flesh away, down to the cartilage. Another scream and more blood were released onto the stone steps. “Now, run for your life.”
The wounded and humiliated drug merchant ran up the grassy hill, into the Park, disappearing and leaving a red trail on the lawn.
Dennis turned around and saw the small assembly that had witnessed it all. His face was red from the anger and the stress of the encounter. He had a headache and an erection.
“What? What are you looking at? Get out of here and don’t come back.” He waved the knife in the air and started down the steps. The people moved out of his way. Nobody wanted anything to do with him.
The police squad car arrived ten minutes later and found nothing but a smear of red on the steps and a trail of more red on the grass leading up “Hippie Hill” deeper into Buena Vista Park.
Dennis stared at his door. He looked around the hallway and rechecked the brass numbers. “This is number eight? She lives in number six.”
He looked at his wristwatch. Twenty minutes had passed, but he had no memory of going into Marlee’s apartment, no memory of going through her clothes, no memory of poisoning the cat food. Dennis sniffed at his fingers. He could smell the hibiscus leaf. “Why am I sweating?”
There was only one beer left in the refrigerator. Dennis took it and plopped down on his sofa. It was hard to tell if the garish ruby lips were spitting him out or about to swallow him whole. He knew the beer was a mistake in light of the Percodan he had just taken dry. He pulled the tab and heard the welcoming rush of air into the can. He wanted it. He needed it and there was a third reason, but it was too faded to make out.
As he drank and the painkiller roared through his bloodstream, the present was disappearing behind a resurgent past. Morning was being painted over by Midnight and San Francisco was becoming the Boston of seven years previous.
His desire had always been to be a man of Science, but, as a 21 year-old, middle of his class graduate in chemistry, his superiors at the University Hospital kept demanding that he stick to his duties as a lab technician. He hated doing the same tests, over and over again, day after day.
“Let somebody else do this. I’m a researcher. I’m out on that cutting edge of discovery. Or I would be if you’d stop demanding that I waste my time doing tox screens on rent-a-cops. Give me the tools and I can cure the world.”
Dennis moved from job to job, sliding from the prestigious and endowed to the threadbare and under-funded, downward to the fraud-ridden Medicare mills. He always had the same complaints and always ended up on the sidewalk ranting at a closed and locked door.
It’s a small world and it didn’t take long for him to gain a reputation as a troublemaker and an all-around pain in the ass. Even the pet hospitals turned him away.
Dennis was a good-sized young man and he was never late for work. That was a ringing endorsement for the Manager at Novicky Moving and Storage.
It wasn’t science, but it paid enough to cover his expenses and there were the unofficial perks: almost unlimited opportunities for petty theft from the customers and very limited dealings with bosses.
Dennis refurnished his apartment with items “lost in transit” from the moving van. The customers had little recourse. They rarely bought the overpriced and worthless insurance coverage.
His prize piece of booty was the sofa stolen from another recent Harvard grad. Somehow, the sofa, shaped like a pair of bright red lips was “lost” during the short drive from Cambridge, across the Charles River, into Boston and to a new condo near the Massachusetts General Hospital complex.
Even though it wasn’t his dream job and there were no likely cures to be discovered in the back of a truck, Dennis did the work and was surprised to find that he enjoyed the companionship of the men in the crew.
Some were ex-cons and drifters who stayed only long enough to get rearrested or scrape up a stake to get to the West Coast. There were others who came from failed academic backgrounds, either alcoholic professors on the skids or men like Dennis – perpetual square pegs.
It was during a job on Gainesborough Street, near Symphony Hall, that Dennis’ life was changed. They were moving a stereo cabinet from a fourth-floor walkup. Coming down off a narrow landing, Dennis slipped. He felt and heard something tear in his back.
Rest didn’t help much. When he tried to lift anything over 25 pounds it felt like someone was driving white hot nails into his lower back.
The other men in the crew liked Dennis. He pulled his weight and bought a round now and then. They decided to help him.
One of the guys, a wiry man known as “Zigzag”, fresh out of Walpole State Prison, gave Dennis a handful of pills. “It’s called ‘O.C’ and it’ll fix you up good, Dude.”
Dennis had been in enough labs to know that “O.C.” was an opium derivative called “Oxycontin”, and addictive as hell, but the pain was keeping him from working. No work, no money…no money, and he’d end up working for guys like Zigzag. He took the pills and kept working.
Dennis thought he could deal with the danger of addiction, but he couldn’t get around the side effects. His growing paranoia made him hard to work with. He thought that the other men were dumping the heavy loads on him, slacking off while he did their work.
Things got worse when Zigzag was arrested for setting up a drug lab in the basement of his apartment building. Dennis had to get his pills off the street and his brain told him that Zigzag was going to implicate him in the lab fiasco. Dennis ran. He left Boston and headed west
It took two years of day labor and five doomed attempts at kicking his addiction before Dennis rode a bus across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was as far as he could run without getting wet.
Still paranoid about Zigzag, he avoided going back to work as a mover. He was living in the sordid “Fogtown Hotel” in the Tenderloin when he saw the ad for “Manly Maids.”
After a year of working 60 hour weeks, saving every spare penny and being mugged six times on the street, Dennis found an apartment in The Haight. Far from being an improvement as he had hoped, the move to 1298 Haight punched his ticket on the express train to Insanity.
The first time…Dennis laid his head down on the sofa as he tried to recall the first time, the first murder. He remembered doing it, but not in any reproducible imagery. It was the feel of his fists hitting soft flesh. It was the sound of his own heavy breathing and the final gasps and silence from the other person. It was the sweaty stench of the man’s crusty jacket and the sweet piquancy of the blood. It was the roaring headache beforehand and the soft tones of restful sleep afterward.
The man Dennis beat to death that first night in the Panhandle was a street dealer who had sold him placebos instead of actual Vicodin. When the pain didn’t go away his rage was triggered and ignited a headache that threatened to “split me open and let the universe see my degradation.”
Dennis went hunting.
After the first, it became easier, and more importantly to Dennis, it became a mission. He was a drug user, yet he saw the path to his salvation lined with dead drug dealers. Save the soul of the user by eliminating the occasion of sin.
When the pain was not relieved and the rage was too much to bear, Dennis would cruise through the streets looking for the young, vulnerable and dealing. He was known to the people on the street as a regular customer, so going into the shadows with him was not considered a risk.
Dennis would lull his targets into the Panhandle, a driveway or a hidden spot in the bushes. When the drugs were presented his knife would appear and, with the surety of the saved, he would plunge the blade into the throat of his prey. Swift, sure and fatal, but not enough to make his message understood. There had to be something more, a warning to the other dealers.
That is why Dennis started his mutilations. To make his point, his final cut was a paring down the bridge of the nose. Destroy the face, he reasoned, and make the world see them as all alike, creating the agony that would drive a decent man like himself to such necessary extremes.
Dennis was sure that, if it were not for the drugs, his life would be pain free and filled with joy and the love of a faithful woman. But the drugs did exist and his life wasn’t pain free and filled with joy and the women weren’t faithful, even Marlee. Didn’t he see her first? Didn’t he bring her gifts? Didn’t he show her that he found her desirable? She, however, had shown her favor for that lowlife coffee puller who thought of her as just another notch on his bedpost. Well, as of last night, Luco Reyes was out of the picture and now he could get back on track to woo and take Marlee for his own.
She spent the next hour following the kitten around the apartment. When he climbed into the litter tray he let out a high-pitched meow to let her know that a little privacy was in order. She was learning about cats.
In the kitchen she set up his food and water. She loved his matching blue plastic bowls. With the supplies that Dennis had given her, J.P. was taken care of for at least a week.
Marlee was happy to have something to take care of, to help her exercise her nurturing side.
“Luco,” she said out loud. “I’ve got to tell him about this and that Dennis and I have worked things out.”
Better than nothing at all, she took a “bird bath”: a quick washing of strategic, sweaty pits. Another shower would have been best after her cello workout and the frenzy with Dennis and the new cat, but she was anxious to see Luco.
From the moment she walked through the door of the People’s Cafe, Marlee could see that something was wrong. Luco was not behind the counter. Instead, the strawberry blonde, looking angry and exhausted was there pulling Lattes. She had worked until closing last night and here she was early the next morning.
The owner, Pete, was busy spreading cream cheese, too much of it, on a sesame bagel. He rarely came into the cafe before noon.
“Good morning, Pete. I didn’t expect to see you here this early in the day. Where’s Luco?”
Pete looked up from his chore. There were tears in his eyes. Marlee’s heart stopped.
“Pete? Where’s Luco?”
“Miss,” he said in his lightly accented English that hinted at his Middle Eastern roots. “Luco is in the hospital.”
“Oh, dear God, what happened? Is he sick? Has he been hurt?”
“He was run over by a car last night, a hit and run.”
Marlee grabbed the edge of the counter to steady herself. She felt her legs turning to rubber. Her hands were ice cold. “No, not again” raced through her brain.
Pete had stopped working on the bagel. “He is like my own boy. According to the newspaper, it was very bad.”
“Where is he? I’ve got to go to him.”
In the moments following his discovery by the Paramedics, Luco was deemed the most seriously injured survivor. He was in shock and broken ribs had collapsed a lung. That much they could diagnose there on the sidewalk, in the dark, amid the crying and moaning of the other victims.
A second and then a third Emergency unit arrived. St Mary’s Hospital was notified that multiple casualties were 5 minutes out.
Luco was the first person transported to the nearby hospital on Stanyan Street, on the far side of the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. He had numerous cuts and abrasions, but the life-threatening injuries were internal. The broken ribvoices had done more than just puncture his lung. It had nicked the pulmonary artery and he was in danger of drowning in his own blood.
While the medical team worked to save Luco’s life, a clerical aide went through Luco’s wallet searching for identification and contact information. If things went badly, decisions would have to be made.
The bored aide looked at everything and sorted it all into small piles. There was a driver’s license, a plastic library card, an ATM card from Wells Fargo Bank and a Blue Cross card. In another neat stack he put fourteen dollars in cash. Tucked away in the center section of the wallet, he dug out two more items: a dog-eared business card for a band called “Besame” and a color photograph of a pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform.
Behind the glass doors down the hall seven people in green scrubs hovered over the unmoving form of a man with jet-black hair and the muscular body of a fighter.
The noise level in the room went down noticeably when the medical team stabilized Luco’s vital signs. They then passed him onto the OR people who would deal with the internal bleeding and broken bones.
From the moment Luco was wheeled through the ER’s automatic doors until he rolled into surgery was only seven minutes. The paper traces of his life were left behind and overlooked in the mayhem.
At the Nurse’s station, amid the usual furor of a Friday night, a man’s life sat in untidy piles. People hurried by, intent on one task or another. An intern set her coffee cup down on top of a picture of the pretty young nurse. No one noticed.
On the fourth floor the surgical team, led by a doctor from Malaysia who looked fourteen, but who had more time in an operating theater than anyone on staff, smiled and told someone to turn up the music. Tonight he wanted John Coltrane to assist.
The damage from the broken ribs was not as bad as it first looked in the initial X-rays. There was bleeding and there were tears in the lung tissue, but it would heal after some needlework from the surgeon. The dislocated hip was an orthopedic matter. The “bone people” fixed that in short order and two hours after entering St. Mary’s, Luco was in Post-Op, alive and sleeping the dark, dreamless sleep of anesthesia.
Marlee ran, not sped, not flew, not raced, but ran toward St. Mary’s Hospital. She ran, filled with fear of what she might find when she got there.
Her heart pounded as she crossed the Panhandle. It would have been pounding just as hard even if she had hailed a taxi. The few blocks to the hospital were a congested area, always filled with traffic. Tourists, local residents, hospital visitors and students from the nearby University of San Francisco combined to create a nonstop gridlock in the area. Marlee would get to the hospital quicker on foot and it let her burn off some of the undertow of emotion that was threatening to pull her down.
The morning fog was still hanging in the trees. It looked like it might be one of those San Francisco days when it never completely burned off. The red lettering on the hospital signs were blurred at the edges. The letters were almost illegible in the mixture of fog, tears and sweat that burned in Marlee’s eyes.
The automatic doors opened and Marlee, out of breath and in a near panic, paused a bare moment to collect her thoughts, then walked into the whirlwind of the Emergency Room. There were people moving in every direction. Injured men and women walked around, in too much pain to just sit and wait quietly. The staff, dressed in various colored coats and uniforms moved around in an educated frenzy.
Looking around for someone, anyone who could tell her what had happened, who could take her to Luco, Marlee walked up to the receiving desk.
She tried to ask a tired looking doctor, but he turned and walked away, not even hearing her. A rumpled young resident did the same. He had been on duty for eighteen hours. She moved down the counter to a man who was sorting through some papers. Frustrated, she reached over the counter top and put her hand on his papers.
“Sir, sir, please help me.” He looked up at her. His eyes said that it had been a difficult shift.
“What can I do for you, Miss?”
“I’m trying to locate Luco Reyes. He was brought in here last night. He was hit by a car.”
“Reyes? Are you family?”
“No. I’m a friend. Please where is he? How is he? Can I see him?”
“I’m very sorry.” Her heart froze. “I’m sorry, but unless you’re family, I can’t give out any information on patients.” He looked down again at his papers, hoping that she would just go away and bother someone else.
“Please don’t do this,” she begged. The clerk refused to look up. In her frustration and rage Marlee reached out and swept his papers off the painted veneer and onto the floor. He looked up.
“Don’t ignore me. Please, where is Luco Reyes?” He glared up at her, silently cursing her for complicating the last few minutes of his workday.
Marlee felt as if she was going to explode. Her head was throbbing. Not knowing what else to do, she stepped back from the receiving desk, looked around, closed her eyes and let loose a blood-curdling scream. Even the people who were along the far wall sleeping off last night’s drugs opened their eyes and looked at her. Security guards came running. Two doctors poked their heads out from behind drawn curtains, expecting another trauma. They got one.
“Luco Reyes,” Marlee yelled to the whole room. “Please, all I need to know is…is he alive. Someone, anyone, tell me that much or I’m going to die right here.” She believed that it was true.
A middle-aged nurse walked up to the counter and picked up a black binder that was sitting next to the clerk who had been sorting papers. She turned several pages, paused to read a moment, and then looked up into Marlee’s fearful face.
“He was admitted. Go to the Lobby desk and they can help you see him and, Honey, tell them that you’re his wife.”
“Oh, God. Thank you. Thank you for telling me. The Lobby desk? How do I get there?”
Pointing over Marlee’s quivering shoulders, the nurse said, “Take that elevator to the Main floor and follow the green stripe on the floor.” Marlee turned and rushed across the crowded room to the elevator.
The nurse bent over to pick up the papers that Marlee had knocked to the floor.
“You know,” said the clerk, “That was a violation of hospital policy. I should report this.”
The exhausted nurse looked at the small picture of the pretty young woman in a nurse’s uniform. She dropped it on the desktop.
“Marty?” she said with the night’s weariness in her voice.